Introduction to Vegan Nutrition

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Introduction to Vegan Nutrition

Introduction to Vegan Nutrition

Being vegan is nothing new, but 10 years ago most people would roll over the thought and it was very difficult for a vegan to find acceptable meatless and dairy-free meals. Now the dynamic has changed: grocery stores have frozen vegan shelves, and restaurants are preparing meat and dairy-free products.

Veganism offers the benefits of cutting out animal products and increasing vegetables, as well as having potential health benefits such as heart health and weight loss. But it’s a big dietary change, and simply saying “I’m vegan” doesn’t eliminate the lifestyle challenges that can come with it.

“It’s not magic. It’s a hard thing to do,” says Eric Rimm, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.

The first big question when going vegan is how to make these smart nutritional choices.

Understanding Your Reason and Motivations

The stronger and more personal your reason for any change, the more likely you are to stick with it. Concern for animal welfare and the environment can have an ethical and even emotional component when deciding to go vegan. They mean something to you and you will not eat, wear or use any animal products because you find it inhumane. It will likely get you going all the way through, and your deep belief and commitment to a greater purpose won’t make giving up certain foods feel like a loss.

But what if your primary reason for being vegan is to be healthier? Stampfer, of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, says eliminating animal products and dairy means a reduction in saturated fats and sodium, which can help with weight loss and/or prevent weight gain and reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease, blood cholesterol, and diabetes.

With a lifestyle and health-focused goal, you are in control of how and when you transform. It’s about a way of eating – the way you eat – and it’s okay to do it at your own pace, because a sudden overhaul can feel so sudden and restrictive that it can cause you to quit after a few weeks.

It can also be overwhelming to think about giving up long-loved foods forever. Instead, start vegan by eating only breakfast two days a week. Or you can drop the chicken and see how that feels, then quit red meat or ice cream and continue to slow down or eliminate old foods for a few months. And at some point, maybe even a few years from now, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t say, “Hey, I’m a vegan.”

However, you may decide to add feta cheese to your salad once a week because everything tastes good. Being a “classic” vegan? No, but you can define it – and

you can only call into your approach anything you want to align with plant-based, forward-looking, or end goals.

Planning for traps

Preparation is very important when trying a new way of eating.

You can find many attractive, eye-catching vegan recipes from cookbooks or websites. By making weekly plans with the recipes you have, you can put the weekly meals in order, so what to eat is not a constant mess and daily stress.

And then ask some questions of your life:

How often do you eat out?

Do you like cooking?

Do you like to socialize?

Know anyone else vegan who can give you tips, recipes, and vegan-friendly restaurants?

None of the answers will sweep you away from veganism, but you can identify potential pitfalls and understand how you approach food. And the last question is key, because having support when making a change can help soften the transition and make you feel less alone in the venture.

Health warnings and options when trying a vegan diet

Giving up animal products can lead to improved health, but it’s equally important to know what you’re replacing them with. And the recipe for being vegan is not much different from any healthy diet. You want to choose whole grains and avoid refined sugar so your blood sugar doesn’t spike and you don’t feel hungry again any time soon.

You also want to eat good fats. You can choose oils such as olive oil, hazelnut and avocado, which are calorie-dense and provide some satiety.

One concern with eating vegan is getting plenty of B12. The vitamin comes mostly from animal sources and is important in the formation of red blood cells and DNA, and the development and function of brain and nerve cells. For this reason, it may be helpful to have your B12 levels checked before switching to veganism.

It may be the most important thing to consider and initially have in mind when tuning. But a reason not to switch? This again comes back to your motivation, and whether it’s a desire to protect animals or a way to live with more energy, then you can probably find alternatives and enjoy the experimentation that comes with choosing to do something new instead of being afraid.


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